Published Apr 14, 2011Samuel L. Jackson is no Morgan Freeman, when it comes to narrating documentaries. There's something too awkwardly animated and inarticulate about how he reads clumsy dialogue like, "These four lions dominate this expansive terrain." It rings of grade school speeches. Plus, whenever he says the word "mother," I half expect another, decidedly non-Disney word to follow.
Of course, this sweeping, pervading obstacle aside, what African Cats has to offer is an abundance of impressively rendered shots, up close and personal, with a pride of lions and a nascent cheetah mother. From overhead tracking shots of scenery and environment detailing the flow of African wildlife to intimate parenting moments and slow-motion hunts, we get a detailed, breathtaking, comprehensive view of the lives of these animals and their depressing circle of life.
Since it's a Disney documentary, the animals are given names, such as Layla and Mara, a mother/daughter lion team in Fang's pride. The theme is that of motherhood, so Layla's constant protection – waging defence and battle in the face of injury and possible death – of her daughter provides an emotional context juxtaposed with that of cheetah Sita, who is raising five cubs on her own.
Now, as heart-warming as these perilous upbringings are meant to be, there is an abundance of tragedy littered throughout this family-friendly documentary. Sita's cubs are constantly put in jeopardy by hungry hyenas and male cheetahs, while an injury on Layla's part puts her at risk of being shunned by her pride, which would leave her daughter unable to fend for herself. It can be challenging and frustrating to watch, even though the cinematic experience is engrossing overall.
In addition, what proves interesting is the constant reminder of gender performance in nature. While the women consistently hunt, fight and care for their children, the men are more interested in dominating territory. In fact, there's a subplot involving Kali (the leader of a neighbouring lion pride), whose main goal is expanding his harem of lionesses, starting a fight with Fang just so he can have more ladies to choose from and impregnate.
It doesn't take a genius to mirror this ridiculous male animal obsession with supremacy to that of human beings. (Buena Vista)